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Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
The Bēgam Sumroo

On the 7th of February [1836] I went out to Sardhana and visited the church built and endowed by the late Bēgam Sombre, whose remains are now deposited in it.[1] It was designed by an Italian gentleman, M. Reglioni, and is a fine but not a striking building.[2]

I met the bishop, Julius Caesar, an Italian from Milan, whom I had known a quarter of a century before, a happy and handsome young man—he is still handsome, though old; but very miserable because the Bēgam did not leave him so large a legacy as he expected.

In the revenues of her church he had, she thought, quite enough to live upon; and she said that priests without wives or children to care about ought to be satisfied with this; and left him only a few thousand rupees.

She made him the medium of conveying a donation to the See of Rome of one hundred and fifty thousand rupees,[3] and thereby procured for him the bishopric of Amartanta in the island of Cyprus; and got her grandson, Dyce Sombre, made a chevalier of the Order of Christ, and presented with a splint from the real cross, as a relic.

The Bēgam Sombre was by birth a Saiyadanī, or lineal descendant from Muhammad, the founder of the Musalmān faith; and she was united to Walter Reinhard, when very young, by all the forms considered necessary by persons of her persuasion when married to men of another.[4]

Reinhard had been married to another woman of the Musalmān faith, who still lives at Sardhana,[5] but she had become insane, and has ever since remained so. By this first wife he had a son, who got from the Emperor the title of Zafar Yāb Khān, at the request of the Bēgam, his stepmother; but he was a man of weak intellect, and so little thought of that he was not recognized even as the nominal chief on the death of his father.

Walter Reinhard was a native of Salzburg. He enlisted as a private soldier in the French service, and came to India, where he entered the service of the East India Company, and rose to the rank of sergeant.[6] Reinhard got the sobriquet of Sombre from his comrades while in the French service from the sombre cast of his countenance and temper.[7]

An Armenian, by name Gregory, of a Calcutta family, the virtual minister of Kāsim Alī Khān,[8] under the title of Gorgīn Khān,[9] took him into his service when the war was about to commence between his master and the English.

Kāsim Alī was a native of Kāshmīr, and not naturally a bad man; but he was goaded to madness by the injuries and insults heaped upon him by the servants of the East India Company, who were not then paid, as at present, in adequate salaries, but in profits upon all kinds of monopolies; and they would not suffer the recognized sovereign of the country in which they traded to grant to his subjects the same exemption that they claimed for themselves exclusively; and a war was the consequence.[10]

Mr. Ellis, one of these civil servants and chief of the factory at Patna, whose opinions had more weight with the council in Calcutta than all the wisdom of such men as Vansittart and Warren Hastings, because they happened to be more consonant with the personal interests of the majority, precipitately brought on the war, and assumed the direction of all military operations, of which he knew nothing, and for which he seems to have been totally unfitted by the violence of his temper.

All his enterprises failed—the city and factory were captured by the enemy, and the European inhabitants taken prisoners. The Nawāb, smarting under the reiterated wrongs he had received, and which he attributed mainly to the counsels of Mr. Ellis, no sooner found the chief within his grasp, than he determined to have him and all who were taken with him, save a Doctor Fullarton, to whom he owed some personal obligations, put to death.

His own native officers were shocked at the proposal, and tried to dissuade him from the purpose, but he was resolved, and not finding among them any willing to carry it into execution he applied to Sumroo, who readily undertook and, with some of his myrmidons, performed the horrible duty in 1763.[11]

At the suggestion of Gregory and Sombre, Kāsim Alī now attempted to take the small principality of Nepāl, as a kind of basis for his operations against the English. He had four hundred excellent rifles with flint locks and screwed barrels made at Monghyr (Mungēr) on the Ganges, so as to fit into small boxes. These boxes were sent up on the backs of four hundred brave volunteers for this forlorn hope. Gregory had got a passport for the boxes as rare merchandise for the palace of the prince at Kathmandū, in whose presence alone they were to be opened.

On reaching the palace at night, these volunteers were to open their boxes, screw up the barrels, destroy all the inmates, and possess themselves of the palace, where it is supposed Kāsim Ali had already secured many friends. Twelve thousand soldiers had advanced to the foot of the hills near Betiyā, to support the attack, and the volunteers were in the fort of Makwānpur, the only strong fort between the plain and the capital.

They had been treated with great consideration by the garrison, and were to set out at daylight the next morning; but one of the attendants, who had been let into the secret, got drunk, and in a quarrel with one of the garrison, told him that he should see in a few days who would be master of that garrison.

This led to suspicion; the boxes were broken open, the arms discovered, and the whole of the party, except three or four, were instantly put to death; the three or four who escaped gave intelligence to the army at Betiyā, and the whole retreated upon Monghyr. But for this drunken man, Nepāl had perhaps been Kāsim Alī's.[12]

Kāsim Alī Khān was beaten in several actions by our gallant little band of troops under their able leader, Colonel Adams; and at last driven to seek shelter with the Nawāb Wazīr of Oudh, into whose service Sumroo afterwards entered. This chief being in his turn beaten, Sumroo went off and entered the service of the celebrated chief of Rohilkhand, Hāfiz Rahmat Khān. This he soon quitted from fear of the English.

He raised two battalions in 1772, which he soon afterwards increased to four; and let out always to the highest bidder—first, to the Jāt chiefs of Dīg, then to the chief of Jaipur, then to Najaf Khān, the prime minister, and then to the Marāthās. His battalions were officered by Europeans, but Europeans of respectability were unwilling to take service under a man so precariously situated, however great their necessities; and he was obliged to content himself for the most part with the very dross of society—men who could neither read nor write, nor keep themselves sober.

The consequence was that the battalions were often in a state of mutiny, committing every kind of outrage upon the persons of their officers, and at all times in a state of insubordination bordering on mutiny. These battalions seldom obtained their pay till they put their commandant into confinement, and made him dig up his hidden stores, if he had any, or borrow from bankers, if he had none. If the troops felt pressed for time, and their commander was of the necessary character, they put him astride upon a hot gun without his trousers.

When our battalion had got its pay out of him in this manner, he was often handed over to another for the same purpose. The poor old Bēgam had been often subjected to the starving stage of this proceeding before she came under our protection; but had never, I believe, been grilled upon a gun. It was a rule, it was said, with Sombre, to enter the field of battle at the safest point, form line facing the enemy, fire a few rounds in the direction where they stood, without regard to the distance or effect, form square, and await the course of events.

If victory declared for the enemy, he sold his unbroken force to him to great advantage; if for his friends, he assisted them in collecting the plunder, and securing all the advantages of the victory. To this prudent plan of action his corps afterwards steadily adhered; and they never took or lost a gun till they came in contact with our forces at Ajantā and Assaye.[13]

Sombre died at Agra on the 4th of May, 1778, and his remains were at first buried in his garden. They were afterwards removed to the consecrated ground in the Agra churchyard by his widow the Bēgam,[14] who was baptized, at the age of forty,[15] by a Roman Catholic priest, under the name of Joanna,[16] on the 7th of May, 1781.

On the death of her husband she was requested to take command of the force by all the Europeans and natives that composed it, as the only possible mode of keeping them together, since the son was known to be altogether unfit. She consented, and was regularly installed in the charge by the Emperor Shāh Alam. Her chief officer was a Mr. Paoli, a German, who soon after took an active part in providing the poor imbecile old Emperor with a prime minister, and got himself assassinated on the restoration, a few weeks after, of his rival.[17] The troops continued in the same state of insubordination, and the Bēgam was anxious for an opportunity to show that she was determined to be obeyed.

While she was encamped with the army of the prime minister of the time at Mathurā,[18] news was one day brought to her that two slave girls had set fire to her houses at Agra, in order that they might make off with their paramours, two soldiers of the guard she had left in charge. These houses had thatched roofs, and contained all her valuables, and the widows, wives, and children of her principal officers.

The fire had been put out with much difficulty and great loss of property; and the two slave girls were soon after discovered in the bazaar at Agra, and brought out to the Bēgam's camp. She had the affair investigated in the usual summary form; and their guilt being proved to the satisfaction of all present, she had them flogged till they were senseless, and then thrown into a pit dug in front of her tent for the purpose, and buried alive. I had heard the story related in different ways, and I now took pains to ascertain the truth; and this short narrative may, I believe, be relied upon.[19]

An old Persian merchant, called the Agā, still resided at Sardhana, to whom I knew that one of the slave girls belonged. I visited him, and he told me that his father had been on intimate terms with Sombre, and when he died his mother went to live with his widow, the Bēgam—that his slave girl was one of the two- that his mother at first protested against her being taken off to the camp, but became on inquiry satisfied of her guilt—and that the Bēgam's object was to make a strong impression upon the turbulent spirit of her troops by a severe example.

'In this object', said the old Agā, 'she entirely succeeded; and for some years after her orders were implicitly obeyed; had she faltered on that occasion she must have lost the command—she would have lost that respect, without which it would have been impossible for her to retain it a month. I was then a boy; but I remember well that there were, besides my mother and sisters, many respectable females that would have rather perished in the flames than come out to expose themselves to the crowd that assembled to see the fires; and had the fires not been put out, a great many lives must have been lost; besides, there were many old people and young children who could not have escaped.'

The old Agā was going off to take up his quarters at Delhi when this conversation took place; and I am sure that he told me what he thought to be true. This narrative corresponded exactly with that of several other old men from whom I had heard the story.

It should be recollected that among natives there is no particular mode of execution prescribed for those who are condemned to die; nor, in a camp like this, any court of justice save that of the commander in which they could be tried, and, supposing the guilt to have been established, as it is said to have been to the satisfaction of the Bēgam and the principal officers, who were all Europeans and Christians, perhaps the punishment was not much greater than the crime deserved and the occasion demanded.

But it is possible that the slave girls may not have set fire to the buildings, but merely availed themselves of the occasion of the fire to run off; indeed, slave girls are under so little restraint in India, that it would be hardly worth while for them to burn down a house to get out. I am satisfied that the Bēgam believed them guilty, and that the punishment, horrible as it was, was merited. It certainly had the desired effect. My object has been to ascertain the truth in this case, and to state it, and not to eulogize or defend the old Bēgam.

After Paoli's death, the command of the troops under the Bēgam devolved successively upon Baours, Evans, Dudrenec, who, after a short time, all gave it up in disgust at the beastly habits of the European subalterns, and the overbearing insolence to which they and the want of regular pay gave rise among the soldiers. At last the command devolved upon Monsieur Le Vaisseau, a French gentleman of birth, education, gentlemanly deportment, and honourable feelings.[20]

The battalions had been increased to six, with their due proportion of guns and cavalry; part resided at Sardhana, her capital, and part at Delhi, in attendance upon the Emperor. A very extraordinary man entered her service about the same time with Le Vaisseau, George Thomas, who, from a quartermaster on board a ship, raised himself to a principality in Northern India.[21]

Thomas on one occasion raised his mistress in the esteem of the Emperor and the people by breaking through the old rule of central squares: gallantly leading on his troops, and rescuing his majesty from a perilous situation in one of his battles with a rebellious subject, Najaf Kulī Khān, where the Bēgam was present in her palankeen, and reaped all the laurels, being from that day called 'the most beloved daughter of the Emperor'.[22]

As his best chance of securing his ascendancy against such a rival, Le Vaisseau proposed marriage to the Bēgam, and was accepted. She was married to Le Vaisseau by Father Gregoris, a Carmelite monk, in 1793, before Saleur and Bernier, two French officers of great merit. George Thomas left her service, in consequence, in 1793, and set up for himself; and was afterwards crushed by the united armies of the Sikhs and Marāthās, commanded by European officers, after he had been recognized as a general officer by the Governor-General of India.

George Thomas had latterly twelve small disciplined battalions officered by Europeans. He had good artillery, cast his own guns, and was the first person that applied iron calibres to brass cannon. He was unquestionably a man of very extraordinary military genius, and his ferocity and recklessness as to the means he used were quite in keeping with the times.

His revenues were derived from the Sikh states which he had rendered tributary; and he would probably have been sovereign of them all in the room of Ranjit Singh, had not the jealousy of Perron and other French officers in the Marāthā army interposed.[23]

The Bēgam tried in vain to persuade her husband to receive all the European officers of the corps at his table as gentlemen, urging that not only their domestic peace, but their safety among such a turbulent set, required that the character of these officers should be raised if possible, and their feelings conciliated.

Nothing, he declared, should ever induce him to sit at table with men of such habits; and they at last determined that no man should command them who would not condescend to do so. Their insolence and that of the soldiers generally became at last unbearable, and the Bēgam determined to go off with her husband, and seek an asylum in the Honourable Company's territory with the little property she could command, of one hundred thousand rupees in money, and her jewels, amounting perhaps in value to one hundred thousand more.

Le Vaisseau did not understand English; but with the aid of a grammar and a dictionary he was able to communicate her wishes to Colonel McGowan, who commanded at that time (1795) an advanced post of our army at Anūpshahr on the Ganges.[24]

He proposed that the Colonel should receive them in his cantonments, and assist them in their journey thence to Farrukhābād, where they wished in future to reside, free from the cares and anxieties of such a charge. The Colonel had some scruples, under the impression that he might be censured for aiding in the flight of a public officer of the Emperor. He now addressed the Governor-General of India, Sir John Shore himself, April 1795,[25] who requested Major Palmer, our accredited agent with Sindhia, who was then encamped near Delhi, and holding the seals of prime minister of the empire, to interpose his good offices in favour of the Bēgam and her husband.

Sindhia demanded twelve lākhs of rupees as the price of the privilege she solicited to retire; and the Bēgam, in her turn, demanded over and above the privilege of resigning the command into his hands, the sum of four lākhs of rupees as the price of the arms and accoutrements which had been provided at her own cost and that of her late husband. It was at last settled that she should resign the command, and set out secretly with her husband; and that Sindhia should confer the command of her troops upon one of his own officers, who would pay the son of Sombre two thousand rupees a month for life.

Le Vaisseau was to be received into our territories, treated as a prisoner of war upon parole, and permitted to reside with his wife at the French settlement of Chandernagore. His last letter to Sir John Shore is dated the 30th April, 1795. His last letters describing this final arrangement are addressed to Mr. Even, a French merchant at Mirzapore, and a Mr. Bernier, both personal friends of his, and are dated 18th of May, 1795.[26]

The battalions on duty at Delhi got intimation of this correspondence, made the son of Sombre declare himself their legitimate chief, and march at their head to seize the Bēgam and her husband. Le Vaisseau heard of their approach, and urged the Bēgam to set out with him at midnight for Anūpshahr, declaring that he would rather destroy himself than submit to the personal indignities which he knew would be heaped upon him by the infuriated ruffians who were coming to seize them.

The Bēgam consented, declaring that she would put an end to her life with her own hand should she be taken. She got into her palankeen with a dagger in her hand, and as he had seen her determined resolution and proud spirit before exerted on many trying occasions, he doubted not that she would do what she declared she would. He mounted his horse and rode by the side of her palankeen, with a pair of pistols in his holsters, and a good sword by his side.

They had got as far as Kabrī, about three miles from Sardhana,[27] on the road to Meerut, when they found the battalions from Sardhana, who had got intimation of the flight, gaining fast upon the palankeen. Le Vaisseau asked the Bēgam whether she remained firm in her resolve to die rather than submit to the indignities that threatened them.

'Yes,' replied she, showing him the dagger firmly grasped in her right hand. He drew a pistol from his holster without saying anything, but urged on the bearers. He could have easily galloped off, and saved himself, but he would not quit his wife's side. At last the soldiers came up close behind them. The female attendants of the Bēgam began to scream; and looking in, Le Vaisseau saw the white cloth that covered the Bēgam's breast stained with blood. She had stabbed herself, but the dagger had struck against one of the bones of her chest, and she had not courage to repeat the blow. Her husband put his pistol to his temple and fired.

The bail passed through his head, and he fell dead on the ground. One of the soldiers who saw him told me that he sprang at least a foot off the saddle into the air as the shot struck him. His body was treated with every kind of insult by the European officers and their men;[28] and the Bēgam was taken back into Sardhana, kept under a gun for seven days, deprived of all kinds of food, save what she got by stealth from her female servants, and subjected to all manner of insolent language.

At last the officers were advised by George Thomas, who had instigated them to this violence out of pique against the Bēgam for her preference of the Frenchman,[29] to set aside their puppet and reseat the Bēgam in the command, as the only chance of keeping the territory of Sardhana.[30]

'If', said he, 'the Bēgam should die under the torture of mind and body to which you are subjecting her, the minister will very soon resume the lands assigned for your payment, and disband a force so disorderly, and so little likely to be of any use to him or the Emperor.'

A council of war was held—the Bēgam was taken out from under the gun, and reseated on the 'masnad'. A paper was drawn up by about thirty European officers, of whom only one, Monsieur Saleur, could sign his own name, swearing in the name of God and Jesus Christ,[31] that they would henceforward obey her with all their hearts and souls, and recognize no other person whomsoever as commander. They all affixed their seals to this covenant; but some of them, to show their superior learning, put their initials, or what they used as such, for some of these learned Thebans knew only two or three letters of the alphabet, which they put down, though they happened not to be their real initials.

An officer on the part of Sindhia, who was to have commanded these troops, was present at this reinstallation of the Bēgam, and glad to take, as a compensation for his disappointment, the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand rupees, which the Bēgam contrived to borrow for him.

The body of poor Le Vaisseau was brought back to camp, and there lay several days unburied, and exposed to all kinds of indignities. The supposition that this was the result of a plan formed by the Bēgam to get rid of Le Vaisseau is, I believe, unfounded.[32] The Bēgam herself gave some colour of truth to the report by retaining the name of her first husband, Sombre, to the last, and never publicly or formally declaring her marriage with Le Vaisseau after his death.

The troops in this mutiny pretended nothing more than a desire to vindicate the honour of their old commander Sombre, which had, they said, been compromised by the illicit intercourse between Le Vaisseau and his widow. She had not dared to declare the marriage to them lest they should mutiny on that ground, and deprive her of the command; and for the same reason she retained the name of Sombre after her restoration, and remained silent on the subject of her second marriage.

The marriage was known only to a few European officers. Sir John Shore, Major Palmer, and the other gentlemen with whom Le Vaisseau corresponded. Some grave old native gentlemen who were long in her service have told me that they believed 'there really was too much of truth in the story which excited the troops to mutiny on that occasion—her too great intimacy with the gallant young Frenchman. God forgive them for saying so of a lady whose salt they had eaten for so many years'.

Le Vaisseau made no mention of the marriage to Colonel McGowan; and from the manner in which he mentions it to Sir John Shore it is clear that he, or she, or both, were anxious to conceal it from the troops and from Sindhia before their departure. She stipulated in her will that her heir, Mr. Dyce, should take the name of Sombre, as if she wished to have the little episode of her second marriage forgotten.

After the death of Le Vaisseau, the command devolved on Monsieur Saleur, a Frenchman, the only respectable officer who signed the covenant; he had taken no active part in the mutiny; on the contrary, he had done all he could to prevent it; and he was at last, with George Thomas, the chief means of bringing his brother officers back to a sense of their duty.

Another battalion was added to the four in 1787, and another raised in 1798 and 1802; five of the six marched under Colonel Saleur to the Deccan with Sindhia. They were in a state of mutiny the whole way, and utterly useless as auxiliaries, as Saleur himself declared in many of his letters written in French to his mistress the Bēgam. At the battle of Assaye, four of these battalions were left in charge of the Marāthā camps. One was present in the action and lost its four guns.

Soon after the return of these battalions, the Bēgam entered into an alliance with the British Government; the force then consisted of these six battalions, a party of artillery served chiefly by Europeans, and two hundred horse. She had a good arsenal well stored, a foundry for cannon, both within the walls of a small fortress, built near her dwelling at Sardhana.

The whole cost her about four lākhs of rupees a year; her civil establishments eighty thousand, and her household establishments and expenses about the same; total six lākhs of rupees a year. The revenues of Sardhana, and the other lands assigned at different times for the payment of the force had been at no time more than sufficient to cover these expenses; but under the protection of our Government they improved with the extension of tillage, and the improvements of the surrounding markets for produce, and she was enabled to give largely to the support of charitable institutions, and to provide handsomely for the support of her family and pensioners after her death.'[33]

Sombre's son, Zafaryāb Khān, had a daughter who was married to Colonel Dyce, who had for some time the management of the Bēgam's affairs; but he lost her favour long before her death by his violent temper and overbearing manners, and was obliged to resign the management to his son, who, on the Bēgam's death, came in for the bulk of her fortune, or about sixty lākhs of rupees. He has two sisters who were brought up by the Bēgam, one married to Captain Troup, an Englishman, and the other to Mr. Salaroli, an Italian, both very worthy men. Their wives have been handsomely provided for by the Bēgam, and by their brother, who trebled the fortunes left to them by the Bēgam.[34]

She built an excellent church at Sardhana, and assigned the sum of 100,000 rupees as a fund to provide for its service and repairs; 50,000 rupees as another [fund] for the poor of the place; and 100,000 as a third, for a college in which Roman Catholic priests might be educated for the benefit of India generally. She sent to Rome 150,000 rupees to be employed as a charity fund at the discretion of the Pope; and to the Archbishop of Canterbury she sent 50,000 for the same purpose.

She gave to the Bishop of Calcutta 100,000 rupees to provide teachers for the poor of the Protestant church in Calcutta. She sent to Calcutta for distribution to the poor, and for the liberation of deserving debtors, 50,000. To the Catholic missions at Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras she gave 100,000; and to that of Agra 50,000. She built a handsome chapel for the Roman Catholics at Meerut; and presented the fund for its support with a donation of 12,000; and she built a chapel for the Church Missionary at Meerut, the Reverend Mr. Richards, at a cost of 10,000, to meet the wants of the native Protestants.[35]

Among all who had opportunities of knowing her she bore the character of a kind-hearted, benevolent, and good woman; and I have conversed with men capable of judging, who had known her for more than fifty years. She had uncommon sagacity and a masculine resolution; and the Europeans and natives who were most intimate with her have told me that though a woman and of small stature, her 'ru'b' (dignity, or power of commanding personal respect) was greater than that of almost any person they had ever seen.[36]

From the time she put herself under the protection of the British Government, in 1808, she by degrees adopted the European modes of social intercourse, appearing in public on an elephant, in a carriage, and occasionally on horseback with her hat and veil, and dining at table with gentlemen.

She often entertained Governors-General and Commanders-in-Chief, with all their retinues, and sat with them and their staff at table, and for some years past kept an open house for the society of Meerut; but in no situation did she lose sight of her dignity. She retained to the last the grateful affections of the thousands who were supported by her bounty, while she never ceased to inspire the most profound respect in the minds of those who every day approached her, and were on the most unreserved terms of intimacy.[37]

Lord William Bentinck was an excellent judge of character; and the following letter will show how deeply his visit to that part of the country had impressed him with a sense of her extensive usefulness:

'To Her Highness the Begum Sumroo.

'My esteemed Friend,—I cannot leave India without expressing the sincere esteem I entertain for your highness's character. The benevolence of disposition and extensive charity which have endeared you to thousands, have excited in my mind sentiments of the warmest admiration; and I trust that you may yet be preserved for many years, the solace of the orphan and widow, and the sure resource of your numerous dependants. To-morrow morning I embark for England; and my prayers and best wishes attend you, and all others who, like you, exert themselves for the benefit of the people of India.

'I remain,

'With much consideration,

'Your sincere friend,

(Signed) 'M. W. BENTINCK.[38]

'Calcutta, March 17th, 1835.'


1. The reader will observe that the lady's name is spelt Sumroo in the heading and Sombre in the text. The form Samrū, or Shamrū, transliterates the Hindustāni spelling.

2. The author means General Regholini who was in the Bēgam's service at the time of her death. (N.W.P. Gazetteer, 1st ed., vol. iii, p. 295.) The church, or cathedral, was consecrated in 1822, and coat 400,000 rupees. A portrait of the General, from Sardhana, is now in the Indian Institute, Oxford, which also possesses a portrait of the Bishop.

The best account of Begum Sumroo is to be found in A Tour through the Upper Provinces of Hindustan, 1804-14, by A. D. = Ann Deane (1823). Walter Scott introduces more than one of the stories about the Begum into The Surgeon's Daughter (1827), e.g.: "But not to be interred alive under your seat, like the Circassian of whom you were jealous," said Middlemas, shuddering (vol. 48, Black's ed. of the novels, p. 382).

3. The Bēgam's benefactions are detailed post.

4. 'This remarkable woman was the daughter, by a concubine, of Asad Khān, a Musalmān of Arab decent settled in the town of Kutāna in the Meerut district. She was born about the year A.D. 1753 [see post.] On the death of her father, she and her mother became subject to ill-treatment from her half-brother, the legitimate heir, and they consequently removed to Delhi about 1760.

There she entered the service of Sumru, and accompanied him through all his campaigns. Sumru, on retiring to Sardhana, found himself relieved of all the cares and troubles of war, and gave himself entirely up to a life of ease and pleasure, and so completely fell into the hands of the Bēgam that she had no difficulty in inducing him to exchange the title of mistress for that of wife.' (E. T. Atkinson in N.W.P. Gazetteer, 1st ed., vol. ii, p. 95. The authorities for the history of Bēgum Samrū are very conflicting. Atkinson has examined them critically, and his account probably is the best in existence.)

An anonymous pamphlet published apparently at Sardhana and sent to the editor anonymously long ago, gives the name of the Bēgam's father as 'Lutf Ali Khan, a decayed nobleman of Arabian descent' living at Kotana. Some writers state that the Bēgam was a dancing girl, and was bought by Sumroo. Her name was Zēb-un-nissa.

5. This first wife died at Sardhana during the rainy season of 1838. She must have been above one hundred years of age; and a good many of the Europeans that he buried in the Sardhana cemetery had lived above a hundred years. [W. H. S.] She was a concubine, named Bahā Bēgam. (N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. iii, p. 96.)

6. His name is spelt Reinhard on his tombstone, as in the text. It is also spelt Renard. According to some authorities, his birthplace was Trèves, not Salzburg. He is said to have been a butcher by trade, and certainly deserted from both the French and the English services.

7. A more probable explanation is that the name is a corruption of an alias, Summers, assumed by the deserter.

8. Kāsim Alī Khān is generally referred to in the histories under the name of Mīr Kāsim (Meer Cossim). Mīr Jāfir was deposed in 1760, and his son-in- law Mīr Kāsim was placed on the throne of Bengal in his stead by the English. The history of Mīr Kāsim is told in detail by Thornton in his sixth chapter, and also by Mill.

9. Probably 'Gorgīn' is a corruption of 'Gregory'. This name may be a corruption of 'Georgian'.

10. Mill observes upon these transactions: 'The conduct of the Company's servants upon this occasion furnishes one of the most remarkable instances upon record of the power of self-interest to extinguish all sense of justice and even of shame.

hey had hitherto insisted, contrary to all right and all precedent, that the government of the country should exempt all their goods from duty; they now insisted that it should impose duties upon all other traders, and accused it as guilty of a breach of the peace towards the English nation, because it proposed to remit them.' [W. H. S.] The quotation is from Book iv, chapter 5 (5th ed., 1858, vol. iii, p. 237).

11. The 3rd of October was the day of slaughter at Patna. The Europeans at other places in Mīr Kāsim's power were also massacred; and the total number slain, men, women, and children, amounted to about two hundred. Sumroo personally butchered about one hundred and fifty at Patna.

12. Our troops, under Sir David Ochterlony, took the fort of Makwānpur in 1815, and might in five days have been before the defenceless capital; but they were here arrested by the romantic chivalry of the Marquis of Hastings. The country had been virtually conquered; the prince, by his base treachery towards us and outrages upon others, had justly forfeited his throne; but the Governor-General, by perhaps a misplaced lenity, left it to him without any other guarantee for his future good behaviour than the recollection that he had been soundly beaten.

Unfortunately he left him at the same time a sufficient quantity of fertile land below the hills to maintain the same army with which he had fought us, with better knowledge how to employ them, to keep us out on a future occasion. Between the attempt of Kāsim Alī and our attack upon Nepāl, the Gōrkhā masters of the country had, by a long series of successful aggressions upon their neighbours, rendered themselves in their own opinion and in that of their neighbours the beat soldiers of India.

They have, of course, a very natural feeling of hatred against our government, which put a stop to the wild career of conquest, and wrested from their grasp all the property and all the pretty women from Kathmandū to Kashmīr. To these beautify regions they were what the invading Huns were in former days to Europe, absolute fiends. Had we even exacted a good road into their country with fortifications at the proper places, it might have checked the hopes of one day resuming the career of conquest that now keeps up the army and military spirit, to threaten us with a renewal of war whenever we are embarrassed on the plains. [W. H. S.]

The author's uneasiness concerning the attitude of Nepal was justified. During the Afghan troubles of 1838-43 the Nepalese Government was in constant communication with the enemies of the Indian Government. The late Maharāja Sir Jang Bahādur obtained power in 1846, and, after his visit to England in 1850, decided to abide by the English alliance. He did valuable service in 1857 and 1858, and the two governments have ever since maintained an unbroken, though reserved, friendship. The Gōrkhā regiments in the English service are recruited in Nepāl.

13. Aasaye (Assye, Asāi) is in the Nizām's dominions. Here, on the 23rd of September, 1803, Sir Arthur Wellesley, afterwards Duke of Wellington, with less than 5,000 men, defeated the Marāthā host of at least 32,000 men, including more than 10,000 under European leaders. Ajantā, or Ajantā Ghāt, is in the same region. (Owen, Sel. from Wellington Despatches (1880), pp. 301-9.)

14. His tombstone bears a Portuguese inscription:

'Aqui iaz Walter Reinhard, morreo aos 4 de Mayo no anno de 1778.' (N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. ii, p. 96.)

15. According to this statement she must have been born in or about 1741, not in 1753, as stated by Atkinson. If the earlier date were correct, she would have been ninety-five when she died in 1836. Higginbotham, referring to Bacon's work, says she died at the age of eighty-nine, which places her birth in 1747. According to Beale, she was aged eighty-eight lunar years when she died, on the 27th January, 1836, equivalent to about eighty-five solar years. This computation places her birth in A.D. 1751, which may be taken as the correct date. The date of her baptism is correctly stated in the text.

16. She added the name Nobilis, when she married Le Vaisseau. (N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. ii, p. 106, note.)

17. The author spells the German's name Pauly; I have followed Atkinson's spelling. The man was assassinated in 1783.

18. This circumstance indicates that the execution of the slave girls took place in 1782. (See N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. ii, p. 91.)

19. The darker aide of the Bēgam's character is shown by the story of the slave girl's murder. By some it is said that the girl's crime consisted in her having attracted the favourable notice of one of the Bēgam's husbands. Whatever may have been the offence, her barbarous mistress visited it by causing the girl to be buried alive.

The time chosen for the execution was the evening, the place the tent of the Bēgam; who caused her bed to be arranged immediately over the grave, and occupied it until the morning, to prevent any attempt to rescue the miserable girl beneath. By acts like this the Bēgam inspired such terror that she was never afterwards troubled with domestic dissensions.' (N.W.P. Gazetteer, 1st ed., vol. ii, p. 110.)

It will be observed that this version mentions only one girl. According to Higginbotham (Men whom India has Known, 2nd ed., s.v. 'Sumroo'), this execution took place on the evening of the day on which Le Vaisseau perished in 1795. (See post.)

He adds that 'it is said that this act preyed upon her conscience in after life'.

This account professes to be based on Bacon's First Impressions and Studies from Nature in Hindustan, which is said to be 'the most reliable, as the author saw the Bēgam, attended and conversed with her at one of her levées, and gained all his information at her Court'.

But Bacon's account of the Bēgam's history, as quoted by Higginbotham, is full of gross errors; and Sir William Sleeman may be relied on as giving the most accurate obtainable version of the horrid story. He had the beat possible opportunities, as well as a desire, to ascertain the truth.

20. Atkinson (N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. ii, p. 106) uses the spelling Le Vaisseau, which probably is correct, and observes that the name is also written Le Vassont. The author writes Le Vassoult; and Francklin (Military Memoirs of Mr. George Thomas, London, 8vo reprint (Stockdale), p. 55) spells the name phonetically as Levasso. 'On every occasion he was the declared and inveterate enemy of Mr. Thomas.'

21. Thomas was an Irishman, born in the county of Tipperary. 'From the best information we could procure, it appears that Mr. George Thomas first came to India in a British ship of war, in 1781- 2. His situation in the fleet was humble, having served as a quarter- master, or, as is affirmed by some, in the capacity of a common sailor. . . .

His first service was among the Polygars to the southward, where he resided a few years. But at length setting out overland, he spiritedly traversed the central part of the peninsula, and about the year 1787 arrived at Delhi. Here he received a commission in the service of the Bēgam Sumroo. . . .

Soon after his arrival at Delhi, the Bēgam, with her usual judgement and discrimination of character, advanced him to a command in her army. From this period his military career in the north-west of India may be said to have commenced.' Owing to the rivalry of Le Vaisseau, Thomas 'quitted the Bēgam Sumroo, and about 1792 betook himself to the frontier station of the British army at the post of Anopshire (Anūpshāhr). . . . Here he waited several months. . . .

In the beginning of the year 1793, Mr. Thomas, being at Anopshire, received letters from Appakandarow (Apakanda Rāo), a Mahratta chief, conveying offers of service, and promises of a comfortable provision.' (Francklin, op. cit., p. 20.) The author states that Thomas left the Bēgam's service in 1793, after her marriage with Le Vaisseau in that year. Francklin (see also p. 55) was clearly under the impression that the marriage did not take place till after Thomas had thrown up his command under the Bēgam.

He made peace with her in 1795. The capital of the principality which he carved out for himself in 1798 was at Hānsī, eighty-nine miles north-west of Delhi. He was driven out at the close of 1801, entered British territory in January 1802, and died on the 22nd of August in that year at Barhāmpur, being about forty-six years of age. A son of his was an officer in the Bēgam's service at the time of her death in 1836. A great-granddaughter of George Thomas was, in 1867, the wife of a writer on a humble salary in one of the Government offices at Agra. (Beale.)

22. This incident happened in 1788. (See N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. ii, p. 99; I.G., 1908, vol. xii, p. 106.)

23. 'A more competent estimate may perhaps be formed of his abilities if we reflect on the nature and extent of one of his plans, which he detailed to the compiler of these memoirs during his residence at Benares. When fixed in his residence at Hānsī, he first conceived, and would, if unforeseen and untoward circumstances had not occurred, have executed the bold design of extending his conquests to the mouths of the Indus.

This was to have been effected by a fleet of boats, constructed from timber procured in the forests near the city of Fīrōzpur, on the banks of the Satlaj river, proceeding down that river with his army, and settling the countries he might subdue on his route; a daring enterprise, and conceived in the true spirit of an ancient Roman.

On the conclusion of this design it was his intention to turn his arms against the Panjāb, which he expected to reduce in a couple of years; and which, considering the wealth he would then have acquired, and the amazing resources he would have possessed, these successes combined would doubtless have contributed to establish his authority on a firm and solid basis.' He offered to conquer the Panjāb on behalf of the Government of India, for the welfare of his king and country. (Francklin, pp. 334- 6.)

24. A small town in the Bulandshahr district of the North-Western Provinces, seventy-three miles south-east of Delhi. Its fort used to be considered strong and of strategical importance.

25. Afterwards Lord Teignmouth.

26. Major Bernier was killed at the storm of Hānsī in 1801. His tombstone at Barsi village was found ninety years later (Pioneer, Dec. 14, 1894). For epitaph of Joseph Even Bahādur see N.I.N. & Qu., vol. i, note 265.

27. Francklin says that the troops overtook the fugitives 'at the village of Kerwah, in the begum's jaghire, four miles distant from her capital', (p. 58.)

28. 'For three days it lay exposed to the insults of the rabble, and was at length thrown into a ditch.' (Francklin, p. 60.)

29. According to George Thomas (whose version of the story is given by his biographer), the Bēgam, when the mutiny broke out, was actually preparing to attack Thomas. A German officer, known only as the Liègeois, strenuously dissuaded the Bēgam from the proposed hostilities, and was, in consequence, degraded by Le Vaisseau. The troop then mutinied, and swore allegiance to Zafar Yāb Khān. (Francklin, p. 37.)

30. Thomas says that the overtures came from the Bēgam. 'In a manner the most abject and desponding, she addressed Mr. Thomas . . . implored him to come to her assistance, and, finally, offered to pay any sum of money the Marāthās should require, on condition they would reinstate her in the Jāgīr. On receipt of these letters, Mr. Thomas, by an offer of 120,000 rupees, prevailed on Bāpū Sindhia to make a movement towards Sardhana.'

fter negotiation, Thomas marched to Khataulī, and 'publicly gave out that unless the Bēgam was reinstated in her authority, those who resisted must expect no mercy; and to give additional weight to this declaration, he apprised them that he was acting under the orders of the Marāthā chiefs.' After some difficulty, 'she was finally reinstated in the full authority of her Jāgīr'. This version of the affair, it will be noticed, does not quite agree with that given more briefly by the author.

31. The paper was written by a Muhammadan, and he would not write Christ the Son of God. It is written 'In the name of God, and his Majesty Christ'.

The Muhammadans look upon Christ as the greatest of prophets before Muhammad; but the most binding article of their faith is this from the Korān, which they repeat every day: 'I believe in God, who was never begot, nor has ever begotten, nor will ever have an equal,'—alluding to the Christians' belief in the Trinity. [W. H. S.]

For Mohammed's opinion of Jesus Christ see especially chapters 4 and 5 of the Korān.

32. To my mind the circumstances all tend to throw suspicion on the Bēgam. The author evidently was disposed to form the beat possible opinion of her character and acts.

33. After the Bēgam's death the revenue settlement of the estate was made by Mr. Plowden, who writes in his report, as quoted in N.W.P. Gazetteer, 1st ed., vol. iii, p. 432, 'The rule seems to have been fully recognized and acted up to by the Bēgam which declared that, according to Muhammadan law, "there shall be left for every man who cultivates his lands as much as he requires for his own support, till the next crop be reaped, and that of his family, and for seed. This much shall be left to him; what remains is land-tax, and shall go to the public treasury."

For, considering her territory as a private estate and her subjects as serfs, she appropriated the whole produce of their labour, with the exception of what sufficed to keep body and soul together. It was by these means . . . that a factitious state of prosperity was induced and maintained, which, though it might, and I believe did, deceive the Bēgam's neighbours into an impression that her country was highly prosperous, could not delude the population into content and happiness.

Above the surface and to the eye all was smiling and prosperous, but within was rottenness and misery. Under these circumstances the smallness of the above arrear is no proof of the fairness of the revenue. It rather shows that the collections were as much as the Bēgam's ingenuity could extract, and this balance being unrealizable, the demand was, by so much at least, too high.' The statistics alluded to are:

Average demand of the portions of the Bēgam's Rs.

Territory in the Meerut district . . . . 5.86.650

Average collections . . . . . . 5.67.211

Balances . . . . . . . . 19.439

'Ruin was impending, when the Bēgam's death in January, 1836, and the consequent lapse of the estate to the British, induced the cultivators to return to their homes.'

Details of the Bēgam's military forces are given in N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. iii, p. 295. For the last thirty years of her life the Bēgam had no need for the large force (3,371 officers and men, with 44 guns) which she maintained.

In her excessive expenditure on a superfluous army, in her niggardly provision for civil administration, and in her merciless rack-renting, she followed the evil example of the ordinary native prince, and was superior only in the unusual ability with which she worked an unsound and oppressive System. She left £700,000. The population of Sardhana town has risen from 3,313 in 1881 to 9,242 in 1911.

34 Zafaryāb Khān died in 1802 or 1803. His son-in- law, Colonel Dyce, was employed in the Bēgam's service. 'The issue of this marriage was:

(l) David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre, who married Mary Anne, daughter of Viscount St. Vincent, by whom he had no issue. He died in Paris in July, 1851. In August, 1867, his body was conveyed to Sardhana and buried in the cathedral.

(2) A daughter, who married Captain Rose Troup.

(3) A daughter, who married Paul Salaroli, now Marquis of Briona. The present owner of Sardhana is the Honourable Mary Anne Forester, the widow of David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre, and the successful claimant in the suit against Government which has recently been decided in her favour.' (N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. iii (1875), p. 296.)

This lady, in 1862, married George Cecil-Weld, third Baron Forester, who died without issue in 1886. (Burke's Peerage.) Lady Forester died on March 7, 1893.

35. In the original edition these statistics are given in words. Figures have been used in this edition as being more readily grasped. The amounts stated by the author are approximate round sums. More accurate details are given in N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. iii (1875), p. 295. The Bēgam also subscribed liberally to Hindoo and Muhammadan institutions. Her contemporary, Colonel Skinner, was equally impartial, and is said to have built a mosque and a temple, as well as the church at Delhi.

The Cathedral at Sardhana was built in 1822. St. John's College is intended to train Indians as priests, There are, or were recently, about 250 native Christians at Sardhana, partly the descendants of the converts who followed their mistress in change of faith.

'The Roman Catholic priests work hard for their little colony, and are greatly revered and respected. At St. John's College some of the boys are instructed for the priesthood, and others taught to read and write the Nāgarī and Urdū characters. The instruction for the priesthood is peculiar.

'There are some twelve little native boys who can quote whole chapters of the Latin Bible, and nearly all the prayers of the Missal. Those who cannot sympathize with the system mast admire the patience and devotion of the Italian priests who have put themselves to the trouble of imparting such instruction. The majority of the Christian population here are cultivators and weavers, while many are the pensioned descendants of the European servants of Bēgam Sumru, and still bear the appellation of Sāhib and Mem Sāhib.' (N.W.P. Gazetteer, vol. iii (1875), pp. 273, 430.)

The Bēgam's palace, built in 1834, was chiefly remarkable for a collection of about twenty-five portraits of considerable interest. They comprised likenesses of Sir David Ochterlony, Dyce Sombre, Lord Combermere, and other notable personages. (Calcutta Review, vol. lxx, p. 460; quoted in North Indian N. & Q., vol. ii, p. 179.) The mansion and park were sold by auction in 1895.

Some of the portraits are now in the Indian Institute, Oxford, some in the Indian Museum, Calcutta, and some in Government House, Allahabad. A long article by H. N. on Sardhana and its owners appeared in the Pioneer (Allahabad) on December 12,1894.

36. A miniature portrait of the Bēgam is given on the frontispiece to volume ii of the original edition. Francklin, describing the events of 1796, in his memoirs of George Thomas, first published in 1803, describes her personal appearance as follows:

'Begum Sumroo is about forty-five years of age, small in stature, but inclined to be plump. Her complexion is very fair, her eyes black, large and animated; her dress perfectly Hindustany, and of the most costly materials. She speaks the Persian and Hindustany languages with fluency, and in her conversation is engaging, sensible, and spirited.' (London ed., p. 92, note.)

The liberal benefaction of her later years have secured her ecclesiastical approval, and I should not be surprised to hear of her beatification or canonization. Her earlier life certainly was not that of a saint.

37. In her younger days she strictly maintained Hindustani etiquette. 'It has been the constant and invariable usage of this lady to exact from her subjects and servants the most rigid attention to the customs of Hindoostan. She is never seen out of doors or in her public durbar unveiled.

'Her officers and others, who have business with her, present themselves opposite the place where she sits. The front of her apartment is furnished with chicques or Indian screens, these being let down from the roof. In this manner she gives audience and transacts business of all kinds. She frequently admits to her table the higher ranks of her European officers, but never admits the natives to come within the enclosure,' (Francklin, p, 92.)

38. The Governor-General's name was William Henry Cavendish- Bentinck, I do not understand the signature M. W. Bentinck, which may be a misprint. The eulogium seems odd to a reader who remembers that the recipient had been for fifteen years the mistress and wife of the Butcher of Patna. But when it was written, the memory of the massacre had been dimmed by the lapse of seventy-two years, and His Excellency may not have been well versed in the lady's history.

Perhaps the author was mistaken, and the letter was sent by Lady Bentinck, whose name was Mary.

The book




1893 1915




Annual Fairs held on the Banks of Sacred Streams in India


Hindoo System of Religion


Legend of the Nerbudda River


A Suttee on the Nerbudda


Marriages of Trees—The Tank and the Plantain—Meteors—Rainbows


Hindoo Marriages


The Purveyance System


Religious Sects—Self-government of the Castes—Chimneysweepers—Washerwomen —Elephant Drivers


The Great Iconoclast—Troops routed by Hornets—The Rānī of Garhā—Hornets' Nests in India


The Peasantry and the Land Settlement




The Silver Tree, or 'Kalpa Briksha'—The 'Singhāra', or Trapa bispinosa, and the Guinea-Worm


Thugs and Poisoners


Basaltic Cappings of the Sandstone Hills of Central India—Suspension Bridge—Prospects of the Nerbudda Valley—Deification of a Mortal


Legend of the Sāgar Lake—Paralysis from eating the Grain of the Lathyrus sativus


Suttee Tombs—Insalubrity of deserted Fortresses


Basaltic Cappings—Interview with a Native Chief—A Singular Character


Birds' Nests—Sports of Boyhood


Feeding Pilgrims—Marriage of a Stone with a Shrub


The Men-Tigers


Burning of Deorī by a Freebooter—A Suttee


Interview with the Rājā who marries the Stone to the Shrub—Order of the Moon and the Fish


The Rājā of Orchhā—Murder of his many Ministers


Corn Dealers—Scarcities—Famines in India


Epidemic Diseases—Scape-goat


Artificial Lakes in Bundēlkhand-Hindoo, Greek, and Roman Faith




Pestle-and-Mortar Sugar-Mills—Washing away of the Soil


Interview with the Chiefs of Jhānsī—Disputed Succession


Haunted Villages


Interview with the Rājā of Datiyā—Fiscal Errors of Statesmen—Thieves and Robbers by Profession


Sporting at Datiyā—Fidelity of Followers to their Chiefs in India—Law of Primogeniture wanting among Muhammadans




The Suicide-Relations between Parents and Children in India


Gwālior Plain once the Bed of a Lake—Tameness of Peacocks


Gwālior and its Government


Contest for Empire between the Sons of Shah Jahān


Aurangzēb and Murād Defeat their Father's Army near Ujain


Dārā Marches in Person against his Brothers, and is Defeated


Dārā Retreats towards Lahore—Is robbed by the Jāts—Their Character


Shāh Jahān Imprisoned by his Two Sons, Aurangzēb and Murād


Aurangzēb Throws off the Mask, Imprisons his Brother Murād, and Assumes the Government of the Empire


Aurangzēb Meets Shujā in Bengal, and Defeats him, after Pursuing Dārā to the Hyphasis


Aurangzēb Imprisons his Eldest Son—Shujā and all his Family are Destroyed


Second Defeat and Death of Dārā, and Imprisonment of his Two Sons


Death and Character of Amīr Jumla


Reflections on the Preceding History


The Great Diamond of Kohinūr


Pindhārī System—Character of the Marāthā Administration—Cause of their Dislike to the Paramount Power


Dhōlpur, Capital of the Jāt Chiefs of Gohad—Consequence of Obstacles to the Prosecution of Robbers


Influence of Electricity on Vegetation—Agra and its Buildings


Nūr Jahān, the Aunt of the Empress Nūr Mahal, over whose Remains the Tāj is built


Father Gregory's Notion of the Impediments to Conversion in India—Inability of Europeans to speak Eastern Languages


Fathpur-Sīkrī—The Emperor Akbar's Pilgrimage—Birth of Jahāngīr


Bharatpur—Dīg—Want of Employment for the Military and the Educated Classes under the Company's Rule


Govardhan, the Scene of Kriahna's Dalliance with the Milkmaids




Declining Fertility of the Soil—Popular Notion of the Cause


Concentration of Capital and its Effects


Transit Duties in India—Mode of Collecting them


Peasantry of India attached to no existing Government—Want of Trees in Upper India—Cause and Consequence—Wells and Groves


Public Spirit of the Hindoos—Tree Cultivation and Suggestions for extending it


Cities and Towns, formed by Public Establishments, disappear as Sovereigns and Governors change their Abodes


Murder of Mr. Fraser, and Execution of the Nawāb Shams-ud- dīn


Marriage of a Jāt Chief


Collegiate Endowment of Muhammadan Tombs and Mosques


The Old City of Delhi


New Delhi, or Shāhjahānābād


Indian Police—Its Defects—and their Cause and Remedy


Rent-free Tenures—Right of Government to Resume such Grants


The Station of Meerut—'Atālīs' who Dance and Sing gratuitously for the Benefit of the Poor


Subdivisions of Lands—Want of Gradations of Rank—Taxes


Meerut-Anglo-Indian Society


Pilgrims of India


The Bēgam Sumroo



Abolition of Corporal Punishment—Increase of Pay with Length of Service—Promotion by Seniority


Invalid Establishment


Thuggee and the part taken in its Suppression by General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B., by Captain J. L. Sleeman

Supplementary Note by the Editor

Additions and Corrections

Maps Showing Author's Route


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